Authorised form of nameDavy; Sir; Humphry (1778 - 1829); 1st Baronet Physicist
Dates1778 - 1829
Dates and placesBirth:
Penzance, Cornwall, England (17 December 1778)
Hotel room, Geneva, Switzerland (29 May 1829)
Plain-Palais cemetery, Geneva, Switzerland
ActivityResearch Field:
Apprenticed to a surgeon in Penzance and studied chemistry and chemical experimentation; assistant, Sir Thomas Beddoes' Pneumatic Institute, Bristol and experimented on gases; Assistant lecturer on Chemistry, Royal Institution, London (1801); Director, Royal Institution (1805); discovered potassium (1807) and other elements; resigned chair of Chemistry at Royal Institution (1813); invented safety lamp (1815)
The foremost British chemist of his day, he rose to prominence at the Pneumatic Institute in Bristol, before moving to the Royal Institution in London, and eventually became President of the Royal Society. His major contributions to science include the physiological effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), the discovery of potassium and sodium, the development of electro-chemistry, the miners' safety lamp, the electro-chemical protection of the copper sheeting of Royal Navy vessels, the conservation of the Herculaneum papyri and seeking to improve the quality of optical glass. As a friend of Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth, Davy was also a Romantic poet and was almost certainly the chemist whom Mary Shelley had in mind when she described the teacher of Victor Frankenstein.
Kt 1812; Bt 1818
Royal Society activityMembership:
Election Date:
Copley Medal 1805; Rumford Medal 1816; Royal Medal 1827
Bakerian 1806-1810, 1826
Sec 1807-1812; PRS 1820-1827
RelationshipsSon of Robert Davy, woodcarver, and Grace Millet; brother of John Davy (FRS 1814); married Mrs Apreece, widow of Shuckburgh Ashly Apreece
Bulloch's Roll; DNB; DSB
Gudrun Richardson, 'A Norfolk Network within the Royal Society' in NR 2002 vol 56 pp 27-39, plate
Sydney Ross, 'The Search for Electromagnetic Induction 1820-1831' in NR 1965 vol 20 pp 184-219
Stephen G Brush, 'The Royal Society's First Rejection of the Kinetic Theory of Gases (1821), John Herapath versus Humphry Davy' in NR 1963 vol 18 pp 161-180
Sir Harold Hartley, 'The Debt of Engineering to Fellows of the Royal Society' in NR 1961 vol 16 pp 136-140
Sir Harold Hartley, 'A Letter From Richard Phillips, FRS (1778-1857) to Michael Faraday, FRS (1791-1867)' in NR 1965 vol 20 pp 220-223
Roger Sharrock, 'The Chemist and the Poet: Sir Humphry Davy and the Preface to Lyrical Ballads' in NR 1962 vol 17 pp 57-76
R K Bluhm, 'A Note on the Origin of the Society's Conversaziones' in NR 1958 vol 13 pp 61-63
N G Coley, 'The Animal Chemistry Club; Assistant Society to the Royal Society' in NR 1967 vol 22 pp 173-185
L F Gilbert, 'The Election to the Presidency of the Royal Society in 1820' in NR 1954-55 vol 11 pp 256-279
G R de Beer, 'The Relations between Fellows of the Royal Society and French Men of Science when France and Britain were at War' in NR 1952 vol 9 pp 244-299
F F Cartwright, 'The Association of Thomas Beddoes, MD with James Watt, FRS' in NR 1967 vol 22 pp 131-143, plate
Donald McDonald, 'Smithson Tennant, FRS (1761-1815)' in NR 1962 vol 17 pp 77-94
C Harrison Dwight, 'Count Rumford' in NR 1954-55 vol 11 pp 189-201
Garry J Tee, 'Relics of Davy and Faraday in New Zealand' in NR 1998 vol 52 pp 93-102
P M Harman, 'The Chemist in the World', review of David Knight, Humphry Davy, Science and Power in NR 1997 vol 51 pp 343-344, plate
Sir John Meurig Thomas, 'Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford and the Royal Institution' in NR 1999 vol 53 pp 11-25
Stephen F Mason, 'Poet, Chemist - and Sage?', review of David Knight, Humphry Davy: Science and Power in NR 1993 vol 47 pp 317-319, plate
Alan Q Morton, 'Previous Public Perceptions of Science', review of Larry Stewart, The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric, Technology and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660-1750 and Jan Golinski, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820 in NR 1994 vol 48 pp 157-159
C W P MacArthur, 'Davy's Differences With Gay-Lussac and Thenard: New Light on Events in Paris and on the Transmission and Translation of Davy's Papers in 1810' in NR 1984-85 vol 39 pp 207-228
G N Cantor, 'Thomas Young's Lectures at the Royal Institution' in NR 1970 vol 25 pp 87-112
K K Schwarz, 'Faraday and Babbage' in NR 2002 vol 56 pp367-381
J Corden, 'Web of Science History' project in NR 2002 vol 56 pp 383-388
R W Jones, 'Dalton's unfortunate choice' in NR 2003 vol 57 pp 15-33
W P Griffith and P J T Morris, 'Charles Hatchett FRS (1765 - 1847), chemist and discoverer of niobium' in NR 2003 vol 57 pp 299 - 316
J S Rowlinson, 'A national treasure house. <i>'The common purposes of life': science and society at the Royal Institution of Great Britain</i> ed Frank A J L James ' in NR 2004 vol 58 pp 105-106
M Crosland, 'Relationships between the Royal Society and the Academie des Sciences in the late eighteenth century' in NR 2005 vol 59 pp 25-34
P R Unwin & R W Unwin, 'Humphry Davy and the Royal Institution of Great Britain' in NR 2009 vol 63 pp7-33
James, Frank An electronic edition of RI MS HD 11 has been published which includes, among other items, drafts of Humphry Davy's 1816 paper on the miners' safety lamp. Further details can be found at:
Royal Society codeNA8200
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
MM/18/44Letter from Harold Brewer Hartley to Christina Butler6 July 1952
MM/18/47Letter from Harold Brewer Hartley to Christina Butler
MM/18/45Letter from Harold Brewer Hartley to Christina Butler28 July 1952
DM/1/69Draft of a letter from Humphry Davy to Sir Robert Peel20 December 1825
MM/3/80Letter from Anthony Blagoewitsch, Hungary, to Humphry Davy18 December 1822
MM/13/21Extract from the Will of Sir Humphry DavyNovember 1829
MM/17/96Letter from Victor Horsley to Robert Harrison, Assistant Secretary, Royal Society26 December 1896
MM/14/122'Account of the Silver Plate melted down for the Royal Society' June 1869
DM/3/4Letter from JW Horton (for Lord Bathurst), Downing Street, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society29 November 1823
MM/14/126Description of the silver plate to be melted down for the Davy Medal Fund 1817
MM/14/123Receipt from the Royal Mint, of Plate to be melted down for the Davy Medal Fund 13 May 1869
MM/14/127Inventory of Plate to be melted down for the Davy Medal Fund 1869
MM/14/124Receipt from the Royal Mint, of Plate to be melted down for the Davy Medal Fund 21 June 1869
MM/17/97Letter from Victoria Mary Louise King to Robert Harrison, Assistant Secretary, Royal Society5 January 1897
MM/21/28Letter from John D Enys8 March 1894
DM/3/74Letter from Stephen Lee, Asssistant Secretary, Royal Society, to Sir Humphry Davy5 December 1823
DM/1/92Memorandum on the cost of printing the volume of the 'Philosophical Transactions' containing Sir Humphry Davy's discoursesc.1828
DM/2/113'An inventory of the Goods...of Mr Newton on the premises of No 3 Duke Street Manchester Square'19 June 1830
DM/1/74Letter from Robert Peel to Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society3 December 1825
DM/2/112Signed statement by Davies Gilbert re Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of Sir Humphry Davyc.1830
DM/2/115Letter from Jane Davy to the Royal Societyc.1839
DM/3/5Letter from Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society, to Lord Bathurst[21 November 1823]
AP/8/8Description of an organ by which the Eyes of Birds are accommodated by the different distances of objects9 June 1811
DM/3/71Letter from Henry Woodthorpe, Guildhall, to Sir Humphry Davy17 November 1823
DM/3/8Letter from H Legge & Middleton, Navy Office, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society7 May 1823
DM/3/7J Martin & R Sepping, Navy Office, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society21 January 1823
DM/4/117Letter from Martin, Sepping, Legge, Navy Office, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society28 May 1823
DM/4/129Letter from George Harrison, Treasury Chambers, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society1 April 1823
P/0210Portrait of Davy, Sir Humphry
AP/12/15On the Magnetic Pole28/09/1825
AP/12/7Observations on the changes which have taken place in some antient alloys of copper1825
AP/13/13On the Importance of an expedition to determine the exact position if the North Magnetic Pole 10 March 1828
CB/1/1/221Letter from Claude Louis Berthollet to Charles Blagden29 January 1808
MM/1/5Letter from Humphry Davy to William Jacob4 July 1820
MS/859/2/37Letter of appointment by Humphry Davy , nominating Charles Hatchett as Deputy President of the Royal Society7 December 1820
MM/6/72Letter from Humphry Davy, Valley of Chamonix, to Henry Warburton4 July 1814
MM/6/87Letter from Humphry Davy to William Hyde Wollaston25 June 1820
MM/15/1Copy of "Further Experiments and Observations on Iodine", by Humphry Davy22 March 1814
IM/005692Davy, Sir Humphry2003
PT/73/5/1Drawings, miners' safety lamp, by [Humphry Davy] 1815
PT/73/5/2Drawings, miners' safety lamp, by [Humphry Davy] 1815
NLB/8/644Copy letter from Herbert Rix, to A W Hutton, Librarian, National Liberal Club1 December 1893
NLB/17/692Copy letter from Arthur Bray Kempe, to Sir James 8 December 1898
NLB/18/277Copy letter from Michael Foster, to Professor W R Dunstan, Fellow of the Royal Society19 February 1899
NLB/20/69Copy letter from Robert William Frederick Harrison, to Professor William Augustus Tilden, Fellow of the Royal Society25 January 1900
PT/2Manuscripts of papers published in Philosophical Transactions, 18081808-1809
MS/251/2Letter from Humphry Davy to William Buckland9 March [watermark 1820]
MS/251/12Letter from Humphry Davy, Cobham Hall, to William Buckland, Oxford22 November [postmark 21 November 1822]
L&P/12/102Paper, 'A method of analysing stones containing fixed alkali by means of boracic acid' by Humphry Davy1805
P/0032Portrait of Davy, Sir Humphry
L&P/11/167Paper, 'Account of some galvanic combinations' by Humphry Davy1801
IM/001094Davy, Sir Humphrynd
L&P/12/92Paper, 'Account of experiments on a mineral substance from Devonshire' by Humphry Davy1805
MOB/046Safety lamp by Humphry Davyc.1815
MM/14/128Details on the five bars of silver, resulting from the melting down of the Silver Plate1869
MS/426/355Copy letter from C R [Charles Richard] Weld, the Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society; to J D [John Davies] Gilbert Esq2 December 1848
MM/14/125Note from the Royal Mint concerning Plate to be melted down for the Davy Medal Fund 1869
EC/1803/03Davy, Sir Humphry: certificate of election to the Royal Society
MM/14/103'Appendix to Sir Humphry Davy's paper on a method of preventing explosions from the firedamp in coal mines'1816
MM/9/7Letter from Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, Dover, to Sir Joseph Banks21 September 1801
DM/3/12Letter from Robert Peel, Whitehall, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society10 June 1825
DM/3/124Letter from WE Parry, Admiralty, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society25 July 1826
DM/3/77Letter from Lewis Gilson, Lower Thames Street, to Sir Humphry Davyc.1823
L&P/12/48Paper, 'An account of some experiments and observations on the constituent parts of certain vegetables and on their operation in tanning' by Humphry Davy1803
PT/73/6/7Drawings, forms of miners' safety lamp, by [Humphry Davy?]1817
MS/251/10Letter from Humphry Davy, London, to William Buckland, Professor of Mineralogy, University, Oxford18 March 1822
MM/20/51Newspaper cuttings on the Royal Society1732-1739, 1820
DM/3/121Letter from WE Parry, Admiralty, to Sir Humphry Davy, President, Royal Society6 April 1826
IM/001095Davy, Sir Humphrynd
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